1. Tennessee Williams (born: Thomas Lanier Williams)
The author of A Streetcar Named Desire changed his birth name to the one we know today sometime in 1939. He once wrote that he had a “desire to climb the family tree,” and thus changed his name, but others have speculated that he called himself Tennessee because his college fraternity nicknamed him this due to his thick southern dialect.
2. Mark Twain (born: Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
When he was young, Twain wanted to become a steamboat pilot. Part of the process of operating a steamboat was for the leadsman to call out “mark twain,” which meant that the water was deep enough for the steamboat to travel. A seemingly standard expression in river boating would go on to become the name of one of America’s greatest writers.
3. George Orwell (born: Eric Blair)
Before the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell sent a letter to the publishing company saying he wished for the book to be released under a pseudonym as he did not want his family to be uncomfortable at the fact that he had lived as a tramp. He settled for the name George Orwell because it was “a good round English name”.
4. George Eliot (born: Mary Ann Evans)
George Eliot felt it was necessary to masquerade the fact that she was a woman in order for her work to be treated as equal to men’s work. Although there were accomplished female writers at the time, like Charlotte Brontë, Eliot wanted to escape the cliché that women only wrote romantic novels, but didn’t think she would be taken seriously with a female name.
5. Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski)
His first published novel, Almayer’s Folly, saw Conrad adopt the recognised name. Born in Poland, but later moving to England, the name change can only been seen as a way of anglicising his birth name. The choice of his third of four names, Conrad, appears to be a homage to the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz’s patriotic narrative poem, Konrad Wallenrod.
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